At the policy review committee meeting of Sept 11, councilors debated the staff proposal to abandon the current standing committee system and move to the more common Committee of the Whole (CoW) method beginning with the first meeting of the newly elected members in December. Town CAO Diane Smithson and Deputy Clerk Stacey Blair had introduced their recommended motion at the last sitting of council on Sept 4, but it was deferred due to the absences of several members.
The current system sees full council meetings on 2 Tuesdays out of the month, combined with a policy review committee session. And on another 2 Tuesdays a pairing of the other committees occur; Planning/Protection, Physical Environment, Corporate Services, and Community Issues. To date if a month has a fifth Tuesday, it doesn’t see a meeting. The CoW method would replace all committees with just one and it would be held on the same night as council which would meet every other week, effectively cutting the schedule in half.
Staff reported a number of reasons why a CoW system would be an improvement. First it would allow for more efficient handling of town business by eliminating unnecessary delays because an item would have to wait until the next suitable committee meeting came along. In urgent cases staff now puts certain topics on committee agendas that don’t match, such as a planning issue at a corporate services committee meeting. Secondly it would improve record management by not having to know in advance at which committee an archived topic was discussed. Blair mentioned it would allow for better staff preparation and report analyses for meetings. Both Blair and Smithson have worked previously in municipalities using the CoW system.
Mayor Antonakos spoke against the idea stating that it would reduce council/public/staff interactions and therefore lessen the amount of information shared. He also balked at the proposed earlier start time (staff suggested 6:00 pm) indicating it would provide an accessibility barrier to those residents that worked out of town and to those that couldn’t stay late (he predicted meetings would run much longer if only held every 2 weeks). Blair responded that she would be putting a proposal forward at a future meeting to reintroduce the idea of live-streaming meetings to improve availability. The current council considered this at the beginning of their mandate, only to reject it due to costs.
Councilor Theresa Fritz commented that she witnessed a successful move from standing committees to CoW during her time as a reporter and editor covering Arnprior council. Councilor Sean Redmond asked how the CoW would be chaired and how topics would be organized on agendas. Smithson replied that other communities opted for a revolving chair system where one member would serve as chair for 3 to 6 months before giving up that seat to the next councilor in line. She mentioned that like issues would be grouped together to permit for a smooth flow and ease of following by members of council and the public.
At the end, in a recorded vote requested by Antonakos, all councilors in attendance (save Brian Doucett who was absent) voted in favour of the move with only the mayor opposing it.